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Untruth Be Told

By Mike Wise
Thursday, February 14, 2008

It wasn't just that he almost certainly lied on Capitol Hill; it was the enormity of Roger Clemens's untruth, the Texas-size audaciousness to think that his stature in society was big enough to get away with committing perjury.

It's the greatest pitcher of his generation believing, down deep, that regular people were too in awe of him to warrant prosecution for taking performance-enhancing drugs -- the sickness of believing his own myth.

As the contradictions kept coming yesterday in the Rayburn House Office Building, Clemens came across as a megalomaniac, a habitual liar and a barrel-chested fraud. The people who believe him now seem to be either paid by Clemens, married to him or in worse denial than the Rocket himself.

He came to Capitol Hill not to swear, under oath, his innocence of being a drug cheat; Clemens came here to show America that the arrogance of the elite athlete has moved beyond our ball fields, universities and clubhouses straight into a witness chair at a congressional hearing.

Brian McNamee is no paragon of virtue; at best, he's a drug-runner for his celebrity baseball clients, one link in a chain that tells us, emphatically, we can't believe what we see anymore from our athletic uberhumans.

But next to the contradictory statements and flat-out whoppers told by Clemens, the former New York City cop turned shot-doctor looked and sounded like an evidence-based detective who relied on the facts as he knew them. Dispassionate, calm, maybe a little too quiet, McNamee refused to get caught up in the morality play of the baseball icon who sat a few feet from him.

The one witness before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform whose credibility no one impugned was Andy Pettitte, Clemens's good friend and teammate. In a deposition given before members of the committee, Pettitte admitted McNamee injected him with human growth hormone and testified Clemens told him he had used the drug too.

Clemens said Pettitte "misremembered" their conversation. Think about that. A player who has no ax to grind, who admitted he cheated the game as well, spilling the beans on the man he used to idolize.

If Clemens is to be believed, his wife, Debbie, and McNamee, at the time his personal trainer, covertly set up an appointment to administer an HGH injection to Debbie in order to help her look like a total babe for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot with her husband.

Clemens said he had no knowledge of the injection -- which he, his wife and McNamee agreed happened -- until after the shot was administered and Debbie began to complain of circulatory problems.

Then there was the nadir of Nannygate, in which the au pair for Clemens's children, who had not seen the family since 2001, was summoned to his home after the committee wanted her number and whereabouts. Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) implied with his questioning that Clemens and his snake-oil people appeared to have interfered with a witness, and Clemens's inability to answer his questions directly -- and his lawyers' meltdown behind him -- ended up hurting Clemens and bolstering McNamee.

The more you heard them spin and backpedal, the more it became clear these people don't have a bottom. When confronted by Waxman, Clemens glared, grimaced and, later, grew almost emotional when talking of his upbringing, as if the congressmen not already politically in the tank for him would be moved to tears. The size of the man's ego is just astounding.

The entire hearing was high drama, and it was unfortunately taken over by partisan politics. The Red Staters, with perhaps one exception, went after McNamee as hard as they could, trying to paint the guy from a liberal state as a desperate liar who wanted to get back at his former employer. The Democrats pounded the athlete from Texas, hitting hard at all the core values Clemens will probably profess on his deathbed.

"It's hard to believe you, sir," said Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) to Clemens in probably the most honest assessment of the day's events. "I hate to say that. You're one of my heroes, but it's hard to believe you."

The most ridiculous of grandstanders was Clemens backer Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who treated McNamee worse than the Clintons during his Whitewater questioning.

But the congressman was right about one thing, when he referred to Clemens as "a titan."

Years ago, Clemens gave his essence away on, of all shows, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." He couldn't just renew his vows to his Debbie in a small civil ceremony before their children; no, Clemens had to co-opt Robin Leach and do it up big and right, at a resort in Hawaii.

Clemens's largesse has always defined the mercurial person and the burly pitcher who no longer belongs in the Hall of Fame. From his incendiary temper to his gaudy statistics, the Rocket does nothing small.

Under oath, on Capitol Hill, he cemented his legend yesterday. Roger Clemens, who won't believe the ugly truth about his career, is now a titan of deceit.

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